Eternity In An Hour
nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
August 13, 2010
Theatre of Eternal Values's Eternity in an Hour is a curious little piece. It is uniformly focused on the life and work of English Romantic artist/poet William Blake, yet, despite such focus, it manages to communicate very little. It holds contradiction in its very title (a typical Blake-ian phrase, from his poem, "Auguries of Innocence") but the production often finds itself caught in a middle ground between distinct poles.
This isn't necessarily unbefitting. Blake himself reveled in contradictions and his life and artistic achievements were uniquely idiosyncratic. He was a visual artist whose paintings and etchings were rapturously beatific or painfully base; and as a poet, he was practically obsessed with covering diametric sides of the same topic (innocence and experience; salvation and Apocalypse; tigers and lambs; happy orphans and sad orphans). His verse style was at once childishly simple and dauntingly dense.
So it is with Eternity in an Hour. In one scene, it's a bardic song, then it's a realistic dialogue between two characters, then a hyperstylized comedy, then a balletic interlude, then another song, then another balletic interlude, then a little more dialogue, then another balletic interlude, then a poem . . . In short, despite its hour-long runtime, the play covers a lot of ground via a lot of styles. Unfortunately, this gives little to no cohesion to the piece as a whole and there's hardly any sort of narrative roadmap through which we can interpret what we're seeing.
The piece doesn't know whether it's a musical (the music is often lovely—sounding like John Dowland crossed with Richie Havens, with Blake's own poems serving as lyrics), an interpretive dance piece (did I mention there are a lot of balletic interludes?), or an actual drama about the life of its central figure. The programs (which, I must note, are quite beautiful) provide a scene-by-scene synopsis, and even this is dualized: on one hand, this helps us to organize what we're seeing, but on the other, what serves as synopsis is often simply a statement like, "Scene 9: Opening into Beulah (the spiritual realm of the psyche)." A narrator who does more than just sing abstractly would go a long way towards helping the piece communicate what it wants to say.
Eternity in an Hour allows Blake to, in essence, defend the production. In one of the few dramatically cogent scenes, the artist opines that art needn't be "correct" like the stale classics—rather, what matters is inspiration and imagination. Theatre of Eternal Values's production commendably takes this to heart, but what the show seems to lack (particularly with its oddly muted performance style that is at once reverent and indulgent) is something equally important: a desire to really connect with its audience.